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Internet users suffer from 'security fatigue'

(Image credit: Image Credit: Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock)

A new study has revealed that many consumers are suffering from “security fatigue” as a result of relentless cybersecurity warnings which have led to many of them failing to protect themselves online.

The study was conducted by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by conducting in-depth interviews with a wide cross-section of Americans between the ages of 20 and 60 living in rural and urban areas in both low and high-paying jobs.

A large number of participants ignored the warnings they received from a variety of sources when it came to staying safe online. Many were also left feeling worn out as a result of constant software updates and the increasing number of passwords to remember. NIST warns that this “risky behaviour” may make these users more prone to an attack.

One of the experts who co-ordinated the study, computer scientist Mary Theofanos, explained how NIST inadvertently discovered that consumers were being affected by security fatigue, saying:  “We weren't even looking for fatigue in our interviews, but we got this overwhelming feeling of weariness throughout all of our data.”

A great deal of the study's subject's responded that they felt “overwhelmed” by the notion of having to be alert for digital threats at all times. Others admitted to being worn down by the ever-growing number of passwords, pins and secure credentials they had to remember to access their favourite sites and online services. Regarding passwords and the way in which cyber security has expanded, Ms Theofanos said: “Years ago you had one password to keep up with at work. Now people are being asked to remember 25 or 30.  We haven't really thought about cybersecurity expanding and what it has done to people.”

Responses from the consumers who were interviewed revealed that many were fatalistic about how they could avoid falling victim to an online attack with many acknowledging that they would likely be attacked at some point. Others wondered how they could remain safe online while many large corporations had failed to do so.

NIST is planning a follow-up study that will target individuals working in the technology sector to see if their feelings about security align with those of the general public. 

Image Credit: Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

Anthony Spadafora
After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal.